Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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It seems that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can do no wrong. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers–all huge hits. Now they’ve even gone and taken a minor Marvel property and turned into another tentpole. Marvel has more tentpoles than a campground.

Guardians of the Galaxy, which was hardly a blip on the Marvel publishing schedule, is the latest monster hit from the comic book company. It is a slightly different approach than the other films, in that it is a space opera in the mold of Star Wars rather than a superhero film, but fundamentally it’s the same template–wisecracks, action sequence, sentimental moment, wisecracks, repeat, repeat, repeat.

The film chronicles a gang of misfits that get together and save the universe. Peter Quill, who calls himself Starlord, is a scavenger hired to find an orb. That orb is also being sought by a major baddie–Ronin, who wears a hoodie and has some interesting black paint on his face. He is working for Thanos, who Marvel watchers may remember was seen in the post-credit sequence of The Avengers. Ronin sends one of Thanos’ adopted daughters, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who looks like the Jolly Green Giant’s daughter, to fetch the orb, but Gamora has betrayal on her mind.

Meanwhile, Rocket, a bounty hunter who happens to be a genetically modified raccoon, is after the bounty on Quill. Rocket’s partner is a humanoid tree, Groot, who is his muscle, though can be kind of sweet at times, and knows only three words–“I am Groot.” Later this group is joined by the muscle-bound Drax (Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronin.

The similarities to Star Wars are many. Quill and Rocket both have Han Solo qualities (with Groot as the Chewbacca character). The Kree, Ronin’s race, are something like the Sith, with Thanos as the Emperor. But Guardians of the Galaxy is also buried in the Marvel tradition of wisecracks and use of popular culture. The story is contemporary, and Quill carries around a cassette tape of ’70s hits, mostly one-hit wonders like “Come and Get Your Love” and “Hooked on a Feeling.” That’s the kind of wit the film has. Sometimes it’s very funny, and the film succeeds as a comedy.

It does not succeed as an action picture. The script, by director James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, has plenty of laughs, but the plot is warmed over boilerplate sci-fi. I mean, an orb that can destroy the universe? How subtle. And the planet that is threatened looks like Disneyworld (of course the Kree are dark and scary). The action sequences–a prison break, a chase through the Disneyworld planet, the final confrontation–are all pretty routine.

A few sequences show some originality, such as a mining world inside the severed head of a celestial body, with Benicio Del Toro as “The Collector.” I also liked the character played by Michael Rooker, Quill’s mentor, who has a trained arrow. But mostly the film gets by on its jokes. Quill, played effortlessly by Chris Pratt, is great company, a guy who fancies himself a space outlaw (when someone does call him “Starlord” he happily sighs, “Finally!”) and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, provide most of the good lines.

The movie is stolen, though, by Groot, who is briefly voiced by Vin Diesel, perhaps the world’s least likely voice actor. Groot, as was Chewbacca, is an archetype–the sidekick, the kind of friend that every kid wants, usually to ward off bullies. Groot has a sweet nature, but can seriously kick ass, too. And I believe that if any line is remembered from any film this year by future generations, it will be “I am Groot.”

This film is getting raves as if it were the second coming of Star Wars,  but it’s not quite that good. I didn’t like it as much as The Avengers, Iron Man 3, or Captain America 2. But I welcome more films, perhaps with more original plots. And the inevitable team-up of this group with The Avengers ought to make the biggest salary payments in the history of films (because by then, Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, etc. will be commanding major paydays).

My grade for Guardians of the Galaxy: B.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

6 responses »

  1. I’m sure Pratt and company are locked into long-term deals that don’t pay all that well. People they didn’t lock in off the bat like Downey and Johanson are killing, while Evans, Hemsworth, Ruffalo etc are locked into much more economical rates. Guardians being post Avengers, I’d be willing to bet Pratt got more for Jurassic World than he would for two Guardians movies.

  2. Oh, as to the movie – I enjoyed it, but it’s been severely overpraised. Iron Man, The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are all better Marvel films.

    For me Rocket steals the show. The choice of Bradley Cooper seemed so strange and cynical (let’s get the handsome, popular guy to promote our movie!), but he KILLS it. He’s the funniest, the most badass, the most endearing, the most heartstring-tugging character in the film.

  3. I wonder whether the intense critical and public love for this film is in part because no film over the US summer season really captured the public’s imagination. The desire for something to really get behind turned to this film and all the stars aligned to make it exceed all box office expectations.

  4. Disappointing actual summer season, against-the-odds success, doesn’t take itself too seriously, Marvel critic blowjob train etc.

  5. Damn, but this movie deserves that praise. As Juan said, Rocket (and more specifically Cooper) absolutely kills it and steals the show. The writing is superb, the action quick and central to the (admittedly simple) plot and man, if it wasn’t the most enjoyable thing I’ve seen in quite some time. The directing really is flawless in the context and there isn’t a slow moment in the film. I am more than pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Far better than The Cap films and while I agree not as good as Iron Man (but far better than 3), it’s the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in years. How was Bradley not nominated for anything for this? Was he?

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